Sunday, December 26, 2010


Pointless play explication of the Meaning of Art in a photograph:

Daffron's newest work exemplifies a continuing interest in dualism.  The bridge divides shore from shore, a common symbol of the River Styx limbo of the voyage between the here and the hereafter, or perhaps a reference to the scales of good and evil, and the hope of keeping them in balance, the inherent connection between those two extreme shores.  After all the fairy tales of trolls under bridges, we would be wise to consider the dangers of bridges.

But the simplicity of a standard religious doctrine is undercut by the shadowy reflection of the limbo bridge in the water underneath.  The suggestion of a false world hints that either reality, or the religion of our consensus reality or philosophical judgements, is in fact just an illusion, a dream, a pale shimmering reflection of something not clearly seen and not touchable or 3-dimensional, but merely wet, a sad, 2-dimensional recipe for drowning in the icy shallows. 

So Daffron's play with the idea of dualism include not just the division into two, but the idea that divisions of two necessarily include Lewis Carroll's through-the-looking-glass flip side, and so inverts the notion of dualism.  That everything is reduced to two is thereby meaningless, as the two always includes the two sides of reflection, and so are reduced to not less than four, perhaps advocating pluralism, or perhaps monoism, that we are all part of one larger whole, the full printed picture inclusive of opposite but identical mirror images.

Material and mental, good and evil, the sides of reflection merge together to create meaning beyond the seemingly simple work.

OK, enough faulty logic, destruction of philosophy, and pompous crap.  It's amazing how easy it is to go on and on and say absolutely nothing, so long as it sounds important.

The real story: I was walking around on Christmas day with my camera, and there were some ducks swimming in the creek.  I took a LOT of duck pictures, but it turns out, I thought this one was kind of pretty, even though it doesn't have ducks. I do tend to like reflections, slightly off symmetry and water.  Who knows what the deep meaning is for that. 

Dualism, the actual definition:

du·al·ism   /ˈduəˌlɪzəm, ˈdyu-/ [doo-uh-liz-uhm, dyoo-]

1.the state of being dual or consisting of two parts; division into two.
a.the view that there are just two mutually irreducible substances. Compare monism, pluralism.
b.the view that substances are either material or mental.
a.the doctrine that there are two independent divine beings or eternal principles, one good and the other evil.
b.the belief that a human being embodies two parts, as body and soul.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Home is where the art is...

I drove through my childhood neighborhood today, on the way to catch up with a friend I've known since kindergarten.  Just beyond Western Market -- the first store I was allow to walk to on my own, and where I first purchased a gift for my mother (Reese's peanut butter cups) -- I turned off onto the street with a favorite area landmark: the Mushroom House.

All swooping lines and precious few right angles, the Mushroom House suggests a hobbit home or burrow entrance to some magical land. 

I love it. 

Underneath that stucco is a traditional 1940s colonial.  The remodel happened some time in the avant-garde 70s, shortly before my family moved into the otherwise traditional neighborhood and after the gas lines started getting long, inspiring a wave of energy conservation remodeling.  Stucco insulates phenomenally well. 

That stucco has changed color over the years.  I remember a beige tan, its original, decidedly mushroom-y color.  For a while, it was a slightly awful pinkish hue (although that was better than the aged beige, which briefly looked as it was molting).  Now the stucco has a smooth blueish tinge. 

In junior high school, I became passing friends with the owners' daughter, a reserved girl with whom I remember playing badminton in gym class.  I have to say, it took a minute for me to think of her as someone other than The Girl Who Lives in a Mushroom.  Not only was she a year older, but she had Mushroom House glamour; who wouldn't be starstruck? The family was interviewed on TV discussing the renovation (there's an indoor pond and lots of wood paneling).  That was before everyone and their cat was on television.  The association with fame (beyond the usual DC madness of too many politicians - they hardly counted, especially given that one of them was my father's boss) thrilled me.  This was before a local TV anchor moved in down the street in high school. 

The Mushroom House was my first taste of functional, fun and flamboyant art.  All these years later, it still makes me smile, and I thank those neighbors for that. 

A quick googling of the daughter suggests that she may have become an actor.  I have, of course, no idea how her life was influenced by the arty remodeling choice of her arty parents; probably neither does she.  Your house is your house.  But in a small neighborhood way, I suspect she enjoyed the advantages and pitfalls of fame.  As she went on to pursue acting and art, there is an implied validation of the value in bold art.  Go big or go home, as they say.  Or in this case, go big in your home.  Some neighbors may grumble (as they did then) about property values and insufficient "blending" with the neighborhood aesthetic.  Me, I couldn't be happier that they chose my street to make something that people still slow down to see.  That people actually see, don't just breeze on by. 

Even today, 30+ years after the remodel, when I got out of my car to take a picture, I looked over to see a guy in an SUV, mouth hanging slightly open in surprise, focusing his camera at the Mushroom House as well.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Recommended: Golden Boy by Clifford Odets at Church Street Theater

I saw Golden Boy by Clifford Odets, presented by Keegan Theatre, at the Church Street Theater last night.  And I loved it.  I haven't seen much live theater recently, and was reminded how much the energy and emotion of the players make a scene come alive.  Live theater is more visceral, living and breathing, particularly (as was the case last night) when the acting is good.   

The play was not what I was expecting in some ways. From a brief review/synopsis read before the show, I was thinking it was going to be more of a period piece, late 30s sensibility, and an uncomplicated good/evil story. The story centers around Joe Bonaparte, a young violinist who embarks on a boxing career, thereby endangering his relationship with music given the high risk of hand injury from the sport.

The 1930s were present, in language, sets and costumes.  You don't hear a lot of people refer to women as dames in 2010, or to the golden year of 1928 before the crash. The sets, wonderful contraptions were rolled around in a rush of NYC activity to create another sets, included the quintessential wooden private detective desk chair, among other classic pieces.  Heels were wide, dresses long, hats mandatory for men out on the town. 

But beyond that period atmosphere, a much more complicated story unfolded as the protaganist, Joe Bonaparte, fought to find a place where he felt he fit, and the people around him sought to influence his choices for their own reasons.  I'm not going to go into a whole analysis of the themes, but suffice it to say, ambition, idealism, love, marriage, art v. business, fame, comfort, money, competition, despair, health and the finality of some choices are all wound into those 2 hours and 45 minutes.  While the ending is inevitable, the path there is rich with complexities.  

The play only runs through Dec 19th, so go see it quickly.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Artful Mistakes Mascot

You're morose without a new infusion of ugly mobile art, aren't you? You need a lift on this rainy day, just a little weird to get you through the day. I have the answer for you...

Introducing wild & wiry Wilhelmina, the new Artful Mistakes mascot.

Not unlike her creator, her head is a bit transparent, her hair unruly, and her innards colorful and disorganized. Occasionally, she falls apart, but she's relatively easy to reassemble, although it's never ends up being quite the same configuration.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

criticism and art

In graduate school, during my "closing conversation" (thesis defense), one professor who had not once commented on any of the drafts of my novella suggested there, on my last day in graduate school, that I delete the first 100 pages of the book. 

That's about when, embarrassingly enough, I started to cry. To this day, that remains one of the more humiliating experiences of my life so far (and there have been many), sitting with my throat closing up in a small room with four professors, two of them, after that, desperately trying to shore up my sad, deflated little ego. 

Art is freeing, liberating, wondrous, expansive, simply fun.  It also, like any interaction with the world, makes you vulnerable when you let the world in on it.  You pour your soul out, and someone, off the cuff, says, eh, not my thing, she could do better, boring, yawn, bleh, pedestrian, unoriginal, poorly executed, off-key, too light, too dark, too rigid, too unstructured, too serious, too abstract, too little or too much whatever.  Or they move on to grandiose commentaries your character and moral fiber (for a zippy example of that, check out Not Fan Mail).  Even minor comments can feel very, very major when people are sticking pins in your baby.

The thing is: it's easy.  I've been the executioner as well.  To this day, I feel bad about telling someone in a workshop ten years ago to make his character "less of an asshole."  To me, his character was aggressively an asshole - he hated women with a disturbing venom and kicked a cat in the story.  But what I didn't know was that there was this whole back history to that character that the author knew (and hadn't included) that made him infinitely more palatable and sympathetic.  Rejection of a character can feel much like rejection of self, a hard place to go.  And sometimes, simply trying to identify your own tastes can lead you into uninformed criticism of other people's work.

When I think about my closing conversation in graduate school, I think sometimes maybe it was karma, that my thoughtlessly worded comment years before was coming back to haunt me.  I hope that guy kept on writing, but I know he missed a lot more classes in that workshop after that piece.  I know that my writing stalled for many years after graduate school and that I still haven't finished the book that evolved from that novella.  I can't and don't blame that one one day or one comment, anymore than I think my one comment could completely kill off a desire to write, but when I hear critical voices in my head, the nasty kind that cramp your creativity, that professor's voice is certainly there among the others. 

This part of art, of putting yourself out there, is something all artists struggle with, some of us more than others.  A lot of life is, essentially, confidence, and confidence (oddly) has little relationship with talent. There are fantastic artists hidden out there because they crumble in the face of comparatively mild comments.  There are others who plug onward in the face of harsh criticism that dissuades them not one bit.  Any press is good press, they say, and move on. The Goldilocks path is to perhaps be able to select the useful information that echos what you already know about the strengths and weaknesses of your work and clarifies it.  Most criticism is not constructive, but even random comments have kernels of usefulness if we can get over the pinpricks of discomfort.

The rule of thumb they tell you in graduate school is you need to send a story out 100 times before publication.  Like looking for work, there is an element that is strictly a numbers game, that your story or resume lands on someone's desk at the right time.  If you're writing about baseball the day he gets tickets to the World Series, well then, you're more interesting. If you're writing about a conflicted drug dealer with a heart of gold the day his son gets shot by Captain Cocaine, your reviewer's reading will likely be less sympathetic. 

In the end, it's a crap shoot.  You put things out, you edit, you repaint, you redesign, and eventually you let go and say, well, it's good enough for right now.  The painting gets signed and goes on the wall, the story goes in the mail, you say, go ahead, accept me, reject me, flay me out whatever way you want.  Or at least, that is what I am trying to tell myself, as I go back to old work and say, huh, having only sent out a handful of stories a handful of times, maybe it's time to invest in the editing, invest in the stamps, start working the numbers and seeing what I can make happen.  I'll stall out again, I'm sure.  But I'm also sure I'll get up and get moving again.  Color me Goldilocks.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Victoria Vox at Iota

Victoria Vox, ah, I have to say, you were my favorite.  She plays the ukulele.  Really.  Fine, I'll put in a bad picture:

And she pairs it with a cello.  And then she sings with this lovely whole full voice and is bizarrely successful in also singing the sound of a trumpet player.  No electronics, no loops, just singing like a trumpet - as my friend asked, "How do you figure out you have that skill?" 

And Vox writes songs about (this makes me ridiculously happy just writing it) sexually frustrated tugboats that want to get it on with an ocean liner.  I'm not making it up:  And yes, the video features the trumpet singing.

She also has her own holiday songs, including "Surfing Santa," because she got tired of hearing the same things over and over and over again.  I admire the sentiment, although my grinch tendencies limit my enthusiasm for holiday music. 

Victoria Vox is a member of 1% for the Planet and donates 1% of all sales to non-profits for the Earth, so you can feel extra socially conscious and virtuous if you buy her album and listen to "Mother Nature." 

Of course, you might have also have fun if you order the "Uke Can Squeeze This" Vox panties. 

Despite the fact that by the tail end of the evening, I was clearly not all there (woohoo! fever setting in! love those December colds!  And overuse of exclamation points!)(!), Victoria seemed extremely polished to me. Wish I had made it to the end of the show, but disease overtook me and I departed.

And now, me and my fistful of Kleenex are going to collapse. 

p.s. I want to learn to play the cello.  Such a beautiful instrument.